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Sleep apps: Can you be trusted?

New apps promise sound sleep, but then there’s human error.

By Christine L. Chen Nov 12, 2012 5:38PM

I have this friend who has sleep issues. It’s bad, and she’s tried everything: pills, hypnosis, meditation, sleep labs, acupuncture, you name it and she’s done it. She has just started using a smartphone app, and despite the fact I want her to sleep, I’m still not convinced this is the way to go.
PJ Taylor/Getty Images

Doctors suggest seven hours of sleep for optimal focus, concentration and health. They say you must eliminate electronics from the bedroom, especially televisions and computers. But, we don’t always heed the warning. The National Sleep Foundation says 90 percent of us use some kind of device right before bed.

It’s beyond brain stimulation. Recently, researchers found that tablets emit "optical radiation at short wavelengths, close to the peak sensitivity of melatonin suppression.” That means the hormone that tells you it’s time to rest and keeps your body’s clock normal gets messed up if you tuck yourself in with a tech screen.

So how is a smartphone app any better? How is it not a type of tech that keeps us from our much-needed sleep? Answer: These apps are designed to mimic traditional sleep-aid methods.

Some apps offer guided meditation to chill you out. Others emit lullabies in the form of nature sounds and white noise or help you with breathing techniques to calm you. Another friend of mine is using an app that tracks how well she’s sleeping. But, the phone has to be right next to her on the bed so the app can measure her body movement. I haven’t asked her if she wakes up to check it.

Most of these apps cost under a few dollars, but there are other app-gadget combos that run into the hundreds: wristbands that sync with an app, headbands that collect data, and even special alarm clocks that impersonate natural light patterns. Some doctors say there is a benefit from these apps and gadgets, because you can learn from your sleep patterns. They’re like at-home, DIY sleep labs.

Here’s the catch, though. When you reach for your phone to use your app of choice as a sleep aid, how do you resist the temptation to check one last email (and reply) or see if someone’s commented on your Facebook post? How do you not get stressed, wondering if you’re using the app correctly? If you go there, you’re firmly in the territory of stimulating your brain and thwarting sleep with a tech screen, which, as we’ve established, are not good things for a restful night.

When my friend uses her phone app, she turns the phone over so she can’t see the screen. She says she can’t look at it, because she’ll get distracted. How do you stay disciplined? Please, someone let me know if there’s an app for that. 

Just for the record, here’s what the doctor orders for a good night’s sleep:

  • Go to bed earlier.
  • Do something to reduce stress every day.
  • Get rid of thoughts by writing them down before bed.
  • Make it dark: Use sleep masks, etc.
  • Schedule time to unwind before bed.
  • Eat regularly to keep blood sugar stable.
  • Add white noise.

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Nov 12, 2012 10:40PM
I just a new iphone 5, love it, but it has an option for me to turn off sounds (texts, fb, song pop, etc) during certain hours; HOWEVER, it does allow you to make a fave phone list so that only people on that list can call you during those hours also...i also got the app that has to be on your bed to monitor your sleep, only turned it on one night so far, but i liked the data...i was able to see that once i turned the app on, i fell asleep with in a min, most nights it seems like i just toss and turn...
Nov 12, 2012 10:39PM

One of the keys for me to get a good night's sleep is to go to bed as soon as I feel sleepy. We are so busy nowadays getting things done, or we're trying to squeeze the last minutes of what little free time we have at the end of the day, that we forget to pay attention to our natural sleep patterns, or we purposely ignore them. I find that if I press on through my sleepiness, I often get a "second wind." Similarly, if I go to bed too early, and try to force sleep, I just make it worse. As soon as you start to feel sleepy (not not earlier), put everything aside and get ready for slumber!!

Nov 12, 2012 10:37PM
i have an app that plays soft buddist chimes. i do not check emails. and i dont stare at the screen. i just turn it over on the nightstand beside me, and away i go. i am notorious for not sleeping well, and this app really works for me and my wife. 
Nov 12, 2012 10:03PM
i fall asleep with my satellite radio playing spa soft smooth music or a cd with yo yo ma, there   is also steve lWelcome to Steven Halpern's
Inner Peace Music! its the best ever. try it .might help ok.
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